Presuming that it is impossible to write unbiased history, does that make the discipline invalid in that it can never be what it would ideally (at least for many) be: a completely truthful presentation of the past?

I'm not sure what you're presuming until you say what "biased" means. Do you believe that contemporary physics is biased? If not, then what is it about historical research that makes it impossible for historians to attain the same degree of rigor and truth that physicists do? And if so, then what would inquiry have to look like in order for it to be "unbiased"?

Why do historians write as if Man were the pre-eminent factor in shaping events when so much is decided by scientific factors (and negative ones, like the absence of viruses and meteors)?

It seems to me that what we call "history" is largely concerned withthe description or explanation of past episodes in the social, political, military,artistic, intellectual, etc. life of humans. Study of past episodes of non-human activity, for instance, the movementof tectonic plates and the formation of stars, tends to go by other names, like "geology" or "astronomy". So perhaps it's no wonder that the doings of humans take center stage in what we call "history". (That said, plenty of histories do deal with the human consequences of natural events beyond our control.)

This is a follow up on, whether the mind can understand how the mind works. In Alexander George's response, he said, "it 'follows' from Gödel's result that there is some basic fact about our minds that we cannot ever know, that we could not in principle access." But is that fact necessarily about the how the mind works, or could it be about some other aspect of mind? As a second question, if we were told what it was, we might not be able to prove it for ourselves, but what would keep us from understanding it in its stated form?

Very loosely and given all the assumptions of my original response, the "basic fact about our minds" in question is the fact that the rules that constitute our minds do not produce conflicting results. Is that a fact "about how the mind works" or "about some other aspect of mind"? That's too vague a question to answer, I think. The fact in question is (given all the assumptions, etc.) a basic property that our minds possess but one that we could not know that they possess. We could "understand" this property, in the sense that we could formulate the claim that says that our minds possess that property. But our minds would not have the means to establish that the claim is true.

Why are there no bad color combinations in nature? Colors in nature never clash. Why not?

Is this so? I don't know (I'm color blind). But assuming it is, shouldwe reach for evolution to explain this (I realize you didn't suggest this)? Somehow, one might hold,evolutionary pressures shaped our aesthetic sensibilities (for I takeit that that's what judgments about color clashes amount to) in justsuch a way that we find all color arrangements in nature pleasing. Butwhat possible evolutionary advantage would there be to that? In fact,you might have expected that there would be an evolutionary advantageto finding certain color combinations repellent : e.g., thatit would promote our survival if we were to judge that the colors ofthat dangerous carnivore's coat "just don't work together". Also,aesthetic judgments are, well, judgments . And as such, theyare sensitive to the rational give and take of reflection, experience,imagination, and so on. The judgment that these colors clash is not abrute, immutable reaction, but rather a judgment that is sensitive tomany considerations and hence beyond...

How do you tell the difference between a reductio and a surprising conclusion?

A reductio ad absurdum argument has the following form:we assume that X is true, deduce some absurdity from it, and thenconclude that not-X must be true after all. You can view reductio as arule of inference that allows us to infer not-X from our derivation ofan absurdity from X. Why does this work? Becausededuction is a process that leads from true assumptions to trueconclusions. (See also here .) But an absurdity cannot be true.Therefore, our assumption X is not true. But either X is true or not-Xis true. Consequently, it must be not-X that's true. I agree withAmy that the final upshot of a reductio argument needn't be surprising,so I'll interpret the question differently. Perhaps you're asking thefollowing: when we deduce our absurdity, how do we know whether it's soabsurd that we have no choice but to consider it false and thus toconclude, by reductio, not-X — or whether instead to conclude that,contrary to what one might have thought, the alleged absurdity is true after all! Youmight say...

Hello. Why is it so that when it's night and my mom tells me to go to bed, I never want to. I want to stay up and not sleep. But then in the morning when my mom tells me to get out of bed, I never want to. Then I just want to remain in bed. Please, why is this so?

You might try testing Peter Lipton's suggestion. You could ask your mother to tell you to stay up one night, or to tell you to stay in bed one morning. If it turns out that you then find it easy to do what she says, then Peter's suggestion sounds like it's on the right track. On the other hand, if you find yourself then wanting to go to bed early and to wake up early, we need another explanation.

A friend and I were debating recently the proper classification of the word "nearly" in the following sentence: "I was studying until nearly dawn." We both thought it was an adverb modifying "until," which was modifying "studying." But he was more convinced than I was, and I'm still not sure. Rearranging the syntax makes the word's adverbial qualities more clear, but it also changes the meaning of the sentence (if only subtly). Could somebody clarify exactly what the word is doing in the sentence above?

To my ear, your sentence means "I was studying almost until dawn". So Itake "nearly" to be an adverb that modifies the adjectival phrase"until dawn", to create a new adjectival phrase, "nearly until dawn", which in turn applies to your studying. Thus, I take thesentence to be structurally parallel to "I was running very fast",where "fast" plays the role of "until dawn" and "very" that of "nearly".

I was loading up to go on a trip the other day and asked my Dad why he was taking a lot of extra stuff and he said: "Just in case the unexpected happens." So out of that comes my question: If you expect the unexpected, then doesn't that make the unexpected expected and the expected unexpected?

When someone says "I expect the unexpected" we might hear that alongthe lines of "I fathered someone fatherless". That is, we mightinterpret him as meaning that he expects some event which he also doesnot expect. That does seem like a contradiction. But isn't that tomisunderstand what he's trying to say? What he expects is not someevent (which he also doesn't expect); rather, what he expects is thathe doesn't expect some event. His expectation applies not to some eventitself but rather to his non-expectation of some event. What he expectsis that there will be some event that he does not expect. Thisexpectation is a second-order expectation: it applies to his first-order non-expectation of some event. (My expectation that a credit card billwill soon arrive is a first-order expectation. My expectation that Melanie will expect me to pay for dinner is a second-order expectation. See here for a similar distinction.) That's why, as Peter Liptonsays, "Even if you expect the unexpected, you may...